They may not be all the way there yet, but at least HarperCollins and Random House — both ultimately owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — are trying to bring books into the Web era with their new “browsing” widgets. As Pete Cashmore over at Mashable describes, the HarperCollins one pretty much just opens a new window where you can browse through the text, but the Random House one is a bit more elaborate.
The latter is a full-fledged Flash widget, suitable for plunking into the sidebar of your blog or embedding on MySpace pages or wherever, and it allows you to search right inside the widget box, and then view the pages in a larger pop-up version of the widget (although it took awhile to load for me). You can see small thumbnails of the pages, or larger versions, and you can search within the text. But — as with most other book searches, including Amazon’s and Google’s — you only get a few pages at a time.
I have to say, though, that as cool as the Random House widget is, I wonder why the publisher decided to go to all that trouble instead of just doing a deal with Google as part of its massive book indexing project. I know there are copyright issues, but it still seems counter-intuitive to keep your own books segregated in a little pile that belongs just to one publisher rather than part of a giant archive that is easily searchable.
Like Mike Masnick at Techdirt, I don’t really see the wisdom of snubbing Google in favour of what amounts to an “expensive, fragmented and limited” book search.